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Culture & People


The culture of Greece has evolved over thousands of years, with its beginnings in the Mycenaean and Minoan Civilisations, continuing most notably into Classical Greece, the Hellenistic Period, through the influence of the Roman Empire and its Greek Eastern successor the Byzantine Empire. The Ottoman Empire too had a significant influence on Greek culture, but the Greek war of independence is credited with revitalising Greece and giving birth to a single entity of its multi-faceted culture throughout the ages.


Classical Greece

The first recorded works in the western literary tradition are the epic poems of Homer and Hesiod. Early Greek lyric poetry, as represented by poets such as Sappho and Pindar, was responsible for defining the lyric genre as it is understood today in western literature. Aesop wrote his Fables in the 6th century BC. These innovations were to have a profound influence not only on Roman poets, most notably Virgil in his epic poem on the founding of Rome, the Aeneid, but one that flourished throughout Europe.

Classical Greece is also judged the birthplace of theatre. Aeschylus introduced the ideas of dialogue and interacting characters to playwriting and in doing so, he effectively invented "drama": his Oresteia trilogy of plays is judged his crowning achievement. Other refiners of playwriting were Sophocles and Euripides. Aristophanes, a comic playwright, defined and shaped the idea of comedy as a theatrical form.

Herodotus and Thucydides are often attributed with developing the modern study of history into a field worthy of philosophical, literary, and scientific pursuit. Polybius first introduced into study the concept of military history.

Philosophy entered literature in the dialogues of Plato, while his pupil Aristotle, in his work the Poetics, formulated the first set criteria for literary criticism. Both these literary figures, in the context of the broader contributions of Greek philosophy in the Classical and Hellenistic eras, were to give rise to idea of Political Science, the study of political evolution and the critique of governmental systems.

Byzantine Greece

The growth of Christianity throughout the Greco-Roman world in the 4th, 5th and 6th centuries, together with the Hellenisation of the Byzantine Empire of the period, would lead to the formation of a unique literary form, combining Christian, Greek, Roman and Oriental (such as the Persian Empire) influences. In its turn, this would promote developments such as Cretan poetry, the growth of poetic satire in the Greek East, and the several pre-eminent historians of the period.

Modern Greece

Modern Greek Literature was born out of the Greek Revolution of 1821 and the subsequent independence of Greece in 1831, and as such, Greek literature of the period is heavily influenced by revolutionary themes, although the impact of the Greek literature of the Enlightenment could also be highlighted, as well as the influence of the Byzantine Empire's Acritic songs and romance.

Moving into the 20th century, the modern Greek literary tradition spans the work of Constantine P. Cavafy, considered a key figure of 20th century poetry, Giorgos Seferis (whose works and poems aimed to fuse the literature of Ancient and Modern Greece) and Odysseas Elytis, both of whom won the Nobel Prize for Literature. Nikos Kazantzakis is also considered a dominant figure, with works such as The Last Temptation of Christ and The Greek Passion receiving international recognition.

Paintings & Sculptures

In contrast to other illustrated forms, surviving ancient Greek paintings are very rare. Greek painters worked mainly on wooden panels, and their finest works were admired for hundreds of years after their creation. However, these paintings rapidly disappeared after the 4th century AD when they were no longer adequately protected. In addition to substandard Roman copies, for example in Pompeii, rare surviving examples have been found in the tombs of the kings of Macedon at Vergina, at Lefcadia also in ancient Macedon, as well as Kazanlak in ancient Thrace.

Surviving examples of the ancient Greek sculpture are more common, particularly the works of the Greek master sculptors, such as Phidias and Praxiteles. These artists and their followers were frequently emulated by the Romans. However, the Christians of the 4th and 5th centuries viewed the destruction of pagan idols as an act of piety. Many ancient marble sculptures were burned to form lime in the Middle Ages, and most bronze statues were melted down for their metal. The marble statues that escaped destruction were spared as they were either buried and forgotten, or in the case of bronzes, lost at sea.

In the Byzantine period, religious art was the dominant theme, with highly decorated mosaics and icons adorning religious buildings. The Renaissance artist, El Greco (Domenikos Theotocopoulos), responded to Byzantine and 16th century Mannerist art, producing sculpture and paintings with a liberated form, light and colour that inspired 20th century artists such as Pablo Picasso, Amanda Martini and Jackson Pollock.

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